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Soul Blazer (SNES) artwork

Soul Blazer (SNES) review

"Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a king. Formerly a kind and generous man, the monarch made a fateful decision to summon a powerful demon. When the foul Deathtoll appeared, the king traded the souls of every living being under his jurisdiction for one gold coin each. That money would wind up unclaimed, though, as the king’s soul was lost, too (he should have read the fine print). Just like that, Deathtoll erased all life from the world and turned it into a ruined and desolate pla..."

Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a king. Formerly a kind and generous man, the monarch made a fateful decision to summon a powerful demon. When the foul Deathtoll appeared, the king traded the souls of every living being under his jurisdiction for one gold coin each. That money would wind up unclaimed, though, as the king’s soul was lost, too (he should have read the fine print). Just like that, Deathtoll erased all life from the world and turned it into a ruined and desolate place. The End.

Yeah, it sort of sucks when the forces of evil come out on top, doesn’t it? And with no one left on earth to take up arms, it looked to be a pretty decisive win for Deathtoll. But, as Enix’s Soul Blazer opens, there is one being left that has the capacity to undo the demon’s curse.

Following in the footsteps of ActRaiser, you control a heavenly being who comes to the surface in order to eradicate evil. Instead of being “Master” this time, you take the role of a subordinate as you journey through six regions of the planet and Deathtoll’s dark abode.

Your quest begins in the peaceful Green Valley. Leaving what recently had been a prosperous community, you’ll soon encounter hordes of monsters emitted by generators. Kill all of a generator’s fiends and it will transform into a seal you can touch for amazing results. Some seals merely hold the power to make new paths or generators appear, but others hold people, animals and plants that were hidden away by Deathtoll. After freeing the hapless souls, you can go back to Green Valley and talk to them to get information and key items necessary to progress further in the labyrinth. While this is going on, the town will rebuild itself before your eyes until it’s a thriving little community once again. Now tell me that doesn’t give you a sense of accomplishment!

One place Soul Blazer shines is in the sheer number of items you’ll have to find and the ways they can help you in your quest. The Dream Rod allows you to enter the minds of sleeping folk, a necessity if you ever want to move past the initial stages of the game. A paintbrush unlocks a hidden dungeon inside a work of art. Bracelets improve your offense, defense or both -- which makes seemingly impossible boss fights a bit less taxing.

That diversity spreads to your equipment, as well. Swords and armor do more than simply improve your overall offensive and defensive prowess. Without the right sword, your attacks won’t even dent the hides of certain metallic enemies. Likewise, only one sword makes it possible to attack ghosts. On the other hand, various suits of armor allow you to freely walk on hot surfaces, survive spike-covered floors and breathe underwater.

Soul Blazer makes you go back and forth between its regions as you get these new items. For example, as you go through Grass Valley’s Painting stage, you’ll notice a number of those metallic foes. During your initial visit, you will be unable to harm them, but when you’ve obtained the right sword for the job, a return visit will prove to be most profitable.

It’s not a complicated theme, but it is a magical one. There is a certain joy in watching a desolate meadow slowly turn back into the happy community it once was. I felt a strong sense of accomplishment every time a newly-saved person or animal allowed me access to a new dungeon or necessary item. And, perhaps most importantly, I constantly maintained a certain sense of anticipation as I wondered where my journey would next take me.

Soul Blazer has a lot of variety within its main levels. The third stage, for example, sends you through vast underwater arenas and a number of oceanic islands in your search for a ghost ship. The laboratory of imprisoned scientist Dr. Leo (the fifth level) holds a pair of model towns you have to enter, while King Magridd’s castle is loaded with dungeons and towers. Each of the levels has its own bestiary and look.

Unfortunately, they don’t all have their own feel. While I’d say the presentation of Soul Blazer is nearly flawless, the gameplay tends to get repetitive and even boring after you’ve cleared a couple of stages. Let’s face it -- you just don’t have a lot of things to do in this game. You enter a new region, find the first area with monster generators, kill everything that moves, release residents and go back to “base” to talk to anyone new -- then repeat the whole process over and over again. When you’re fighting, there is nothing to break up the combat. Soul Blazer has no in-dungeon puzzles, as when you reach a dead end, merely stepping on a depleted generator will open a new path. After a while, it will feel like you’re in a never-ending cycle where all you do is hack at monsters and talk to whomever you’ve rescued.

And this sequence of events never really gets challenging. The average, run-of-the-mill monster tends to utilize a simple pattern, while possessing neither the power nor stamina to pose much of a threat in combat. While you get a number of magical spells, it seemed the only time I used them was to kill those rare monsters hidden away in places outside of sword range. It simply was so easy to slaughter everything with my sword that I felt it’d be a hassle to needlessly experiment with “alternate” weaponry. Oh, and if you do find your life getting depleted quickly, it generally is quite easy to flee and recharge your life meter at Master’s shrine. None of the slain generator monsters will return and the few free-roaming (and regenerating) foes will only provide a token challenge.

Really, the only fights that can become challenging are those against each level’s boss. Without the various stat-enhancing bracelets, these foes can seem impossible at times. With them, they still can provide a grueling challenge, as most bosses have multiple attacks that can become quite damaging AND generally are invulnerable to damage for large portions of the fight. I found all the boss battles to be pretty tense and exciting -- in other words, the opposite of combat in general.

Despite not having the best fighting system out there, I still liked Soul Blazer quite a bit. The atmosphere and the engaging quest proved capable of carrying me from one region to another. Considering that it’s one of the older SNES games out there, it’s impressive how much detail the graphics had. In the snow regions of the fourth level, you’ll watch the white stuff take on a life of its own, rapidly evolving into massive snow boulders determined to run you down. Much later in the game, you will control your hero as he runs across what appears to be an outer space setting, while eerie shapes undulate in the background. On all sides are gigantic walls of flame, leading you to what can only be the final confrontation with Deathtoll. While little touches like those may not be overly impressive on their own, they do give each level and sub-level its own distinct atmosphere, which can perform wonders in masking a game’s flaws.

And when you add an excellent soundtrack that never seems to go wrong, you have a game with nearly everything. Soul Blazer has all the atmosphere and level variety a player could want, while giving them a plethora of items and equipment to find. Sadly, due to a one-dimensional combat system that will wear out its welcome after a while and a general lack of challenge, this Enix effort may be short on replay value. Admittedly, I had a blast playing through it, but I really can’t see me touching this game again anytime soon. Still, that first trip through Soul Blazer was a pretty fun experience -- just not enough to make this game an enduring classic.

Rating: 8/10

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (March 24, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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